Literacy is a Blessing and a Curse
Wise and intelligent Frederick Douglass once stated, “There is no royal road to perfection.” One has to fight for what they truly want, but it is no easy task. Life is a double-edged sword. It has its positives and its negatives, its bumps and bruises. Some events are a blessing, but some are a curse.
As demonstrated in the autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave, literacy played a double-edged sword in Frederick’s life. Literacy allowed him to gain more knowledge and become one of the very few slaves with an education, but it also made his life more difficult working as a slave. He was no longer a typical slave and he began to know too much about slavery. He was informed about abolitionists, which allowed him to realize how much more horrific slavery was and it made him resist it more. We give homage to Frederick Douglass because he led a movement as an abolitionist to reverse the curse and try to keep it a blessing.
Literacy as a double-edged sword was also present in the South during the Voting Right’s Act of 1965 when African-Americans were given a literacy test to determine if they should be able to vote. This test gave blacks a chance to be treated fairly because now there was an opportunity for them to vote. However, it was distributed only to a majority of blacks, demonstrating how whites were still the favored race. In addition, this test was a step closer to pure freedom, but it was rigged and made nearly impossible, making it extremely hard to pass and earn the right to vote. Fortunately, during the 1960’s, the Voting Right’s Act was passed to ensure nobody was denied an opportunity to vote based on discrimination. As a part of this act, there was a literacy test distributed to people in the South to see if they were qualified enough to make an important decision in their community.
This literacy test gave African-Americans a chance to be treated more equally compared to the wealthy white people. They now had the opportunity to vote, which was a right that had been taken away from them as a slave. The point of the Voting Right’s Act was to decrease the unfair treatment of people who were a different race or color. However, there was a major downside in this literacy test because it was given mainly to blacks that were previous slaves. Knowing that slaves did not even have a debasing education compared whites because they were denied the opportunity to learn, the government gave this test to a majority of African Americans. In the South, approximately 50% of African-Americans were illiterate, whereas the percentage for whites was only approximately 15%.
There was a myriad of African-American slaves who believed this was their chance to be truly free because freedom was almost a privation, but now there was this block that proved the South was not all in for equality. When the Voting Right’s Act was passed, it had a positive impact on African-Americans because it showed them how there was a way out of this brutal nightmare we call slavery. People, even whites, started realizing that slaves were real people and should not be treated equal to animals; they should be treated more like the rest of the whites. This literacy test proved this logic by giving slaves more rights. Literacy gave intimation to them about being a step closer to pure emancipation. It only took planting a seed and soon there would be wealthy African-Americans owning their own plantations.
On the other hand, even though this made them closer on their journey to freedom, the test was made nearly “impossible.” The curse of literacy struck again because it was to test if these slaves had an education of at least a fifth grader, but majority of them did not. Being slaves, most of the masters would not allow their slaves to have an education because they would no longer qualify and be “fit” for a slave. The test was intentionally tricky and confusing in order for them to not pass and therefore not be able to vote. While slaves barely had an education when working under a master on a plantation, this literacy test most likely encouraged them to obtain a better education. Literacy in this case would be a blessing because if they knew they had to pass the test in order to vote, they would be motivated to learn how to read, write, and get the basic fundamentals in education that white people had.
Slaves would strive even harder, making this literacy test even more useful. In contrast, while African-Americans were working vigorously to pass this test, one little grammatical error such as a comma or a capitalized letter could make all the difference. Because these tests were being graded and reviewed by all white men, the outcome of whether the person passed or failed was biased. It is conspicuous that white people availed this literacy test because they could grade anyone however they wanted. For example, according to the Civil Right Movement Veterans, one of the questions on the test was “write backwards, forwards.
” If an African-American just wrote “backwards” without the comma, they could be failed, whereas if a white person were not even able to read the question, they would still pass. Despite all the hard work and effort they put into studying to pass this test, it was very likely that blacks would fail. The outcome usually ended up depending on their race, which manifested the whites’ odious and unfair demeanor. In Frederick Douglass’ life, he encountered many experiences where literacy played a double-edged sword. It led him to freedom and being able to leave a one-of-a-kind lasting legacy that we honor and commensurate him for.
However, it posed some challenges such as being one of the very few slaves working on a plantation who were not illiterate. Literacy playing a blessing and a curse in Douglass’ life was similar to the Voting Literacy Test in the South in 1965. It had a positive and a negative impact of African-Americans, allowing them a chance to vote, but then it came at a cost, being difficult to pass, restricting rights, and limiting their opportunity. It brought them closer to freedom, but equality was not fully developed yet. Literacy eventually helped slaves advance, despite the rough journey, and it seems almost impossible to imagine our modern-day society without this incredible ability to read or write. If people continued to dwell as illiterate, where might we have ended up in this twenty-first century?